How Bad Can It Be?
Women make up 39% of global employment, but account for 54% (so far) of Covid-19 related job losses. This means women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s (McKinsey). Not great news for efforts to close the gender pay gap.
Before Coronavirus, there had been slow progress in closing the gender pay gap, gender parity remained uneven. Without intervention, a real risk exists that slow progress made, could go into reverse. Not only holding back gender equality but the global economy.
Why Are Women Bearing The Brunt?
Women are disproportionately represented in industries and jobs negatively impacted by Coronavirus (think hospitality, tourism, retail, childcare…). However this only explains one quarter of why women have been more vulnerable to job losses.
Coronavirus, has seen many women assume the lion’s share of the childcare, home schooling and household chores. All whilst trying to hold down the career they worked tirelessly to achieve. This highlights that socially we still live in a world where such responsibilities are assumed to be “women’s work”. This has resulted in a huge volume of women feeling they need to make a choice between their careers and their families.
The “second shift” as it is often referred to (when the unpaid job of childcare, household chores, cooking, cleaning kick in after actual working hours!) has been increasingly shared by men. But, it is a fact women are still bearing most of the load. Women are being interrupted by household demands at a much higher rate than men, meaning performance at work is more heavily impacted. Childcare is still being cited as one of the number one reasons for women not being able to work (CNBC).
What Does This Mean For Women In The Longer Term?
Whilst many men have been able to lock themselves away to carry out a full days work, many women have not. This could mean an impact on their output. Quite possibly also on their perceived performance and therefore their potential development and promotional opportunities. The stark reality is the impact of Coronavirus on women’s careers may well be felt long after the virus is out of circulation. A widening of the gender pay gap, not closing it as we’ve long fought for. This will then only exacerbate the pay and promotion gaps that were already in existence.
One good thing to come from this is more focus on and acceptance of the need for flexible working. However even this is not viewed equally. Some say men are encouraged to make use of flex to enhance productivity. Women are expected to adopt flexible working to allow more capacity for their unpaid work.
All of this goes to show equality at work and embracing flexibility for all is not just a nice thing to do. It should be a requirement of all employers. Women can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. Using flexibility to suggest this is possible is not the right solution. We need flex for all. We need to be able to manage personal and professional lives in unison. Not as a way to attempt to be the doer of even more things!
Does This Have To Mean Bad News For The Gender Pay Gap?
There’s no debating times are tough and women really have arguably taken the biggest hit. This doesn’t mean we have to accept this as our fate. We cannot rewind back to the 1950s.
The Covid crisis has allowed us to redress the balance a little at home. I know in my household, my husband being home and seeing more of the children has had a positive impact on all of us. We are a calmer and happier household. I am less resentful of him having the “luxury” of being out of the house all day. He is less exhausted from hours on a train struggling to find time for exercise and rarely seeing the kids outside of the weekend; the children clearly see him as a more equal care-giver than they did previously.
Many of my clients have found remote working opportunities which historically would have been purely office based – one of the reasons some had left their careers several years back. There is less feeling of needing to prove ourselves before we ask for flex or remote working. It’s a fact of life that we all continue to need this and I have high hopes many organisations will keep this as a permanent feature.
Having time away from the workplace (whilst hugely stress-inducing for those that have worked throughout), has allowed time for reflection. Time to consider what we truly want from our lives and careers. Investors In People have found one in three of the UK’s population are unhappy in their current role or industry. This in itself is not cause for celebration. But we may have just carried on pushing through without this time of pause and reflection. Ending up in a much more unhappy place.
The Question Now Is What To Do Next?
Albert Einstein said “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity” and this is something we all must remember. Organisations can take this chance to change how they embrace flexible working, how they manage performance and promotional activity; parents have more opportunity to bring more equality to the unpaid work at home; we all have a chance to truly consider what we want. Now it feels hard, like we just need to get through it. But what can you take from this? Work towards the future you want that this unexpected pause in life has allowed you to see?
Can We Continue To Close The Gender Pay Gap?
We are in uncertain times. Work practices are changing, for the better we hope. So while this pandemic may have set women back, I know that women are fighters and we will bounce back from this. Stronger and better than before.
Find Rebecca on our career coaching page